In an effort to curb students’ frustration with finding the classes they need for their degree, Central Oregon Community College administration has begun implementing a new program that will help students with academic planning.
DegreeWorks, an online program that calculates which courses a student must complete in order to graduate, was previewed by COCC advisors during summer term this year and should be available for use starting next fall term.
“It sounded like a really great program,” said Aimee Metcalf, COCC’s director of admissions and records who researched and introduced DegreeWorks to the college.
“Advising is going to be much more interesting,”she said.
The Current Program
The college’s current advising program is accessible through the student and staff online services, on the COCC website.
This program is “not a good solution to students asking, ‘what classes should I take?’” said Vickery Viles, COCC’s CAP center director, describing it as “not user-friendly” for students.
“I had a student once who was going for his AAOT (Associate of Arts, Oregon Transfer) degree … who called me up in tears,” said Viles. “He was very distraught because [the program] told him he wasn’t going to graduate, and it was incorrect. It created unnecessary trauma.”
In order to reach the current program, students need to go to the student records page in their student and staff online services, click degree evaluation, then click the what-if analysis link at the bottom of the page, which “throws a lot of people off,” said Viles.
“The [current] module is very, very cryptic,” said Viles. “The degree audits are not definitive; it’s got this sort of cryptic and clunky interface, and it’s not clear to students.”
What is DegreeWorks?
According to the PowerPoint presentation previewed by advisors, “DegreeWorks is a comprehensive set of web-based academic advising, degree audit, transfer articulation tools.”
Highlights for students include a personalized online advising system, a degree audit confirming progress toward completion of their degree, and its direct access to related services and advice through hyperlinks to catalog information, class schedules, transcripts, help desk services, and FAQs.
“It’s easier for students to see what they need,” said Viles. “They can save a plan – an immediate and understandable view of their progress toward their degree – and we (advisors) can give suggested plans.”
DegreeWorks will also provide students “the ability to run ‘what if?’ scenarios — for example, ‘what if I want to get my Medical Assistant certificate rather than an AAOT?’” according to the PowerPoint.
“They can switch degrees with a click-and-compare option,” said Viles. “Advisor appointments will have more of the interpersonal aspects that advising should be about.”
A “Transitional Challenge”
Although DegreeWorks should provide COCC with a more “effective planning tool for students working toward their degrees,” said Christina Mills, COCC’s information systems technician for enrollment services, it is also going to be a “big transition” for the college’s staff and faculty.
“We’re all every optimistic about it,” said Mills. “But it’s going to be a big learning curve for everyone involved.”
Metcalf, who has been trying to bring DegreeWorks to COCC for over two years, explained the challenges of implementing a new advising program.
“It’s an expensive product … there’s a high-price tag with such a quality program,” said Metcalf. “Some people would definitely take a second, or third, or possibly fourth look at it.”
Along with the cost, other troubles included the high workload of staff and faculty at COCC.
“It (DegreeWorks) is coming at a time when staff and faculty are very overwhelmed, so it’s kinda hard going, ‘hey look at this!’ even though it will relieve a lot of the current stressors,” said Metcalf.
Despite these transitional challenges, Metcalf remains optimistic about implementing the program.
“We won’t remember the pain,” said Metcalf.
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